Friday, December 30, 2005

...But I Play One On TV!

Oh, this is too good to leave alone. From Newsweek:

Dec. 26, 2005 - Jan 2, 2006 issue - Jake Gyllenhaal is Hollywood's sexiest man—despite what the editors at People say. The actor took a break from his heartthrob duties to speak with Ramin Setoodeh.

In "Jarhead," you played a Marine. Is it time for us to get out of Iraq?
Honestly, I'm feeling more like maybe we should.

Am I the only one who sees a nonsequitur here?

Let's just continue this interview along these lines, shall we?

Agenda-Advancing Journalist: In "Brokeback Mountain" you play a gay sheep-rancher. Do you feel that sheep ranching is exploitative and causes undue harm to sheep?

Jake Gyllenhaal: Oh, absolutely. No one asks the sheep for permission to rip off all their hair every Spring.

AAJ: In "The Day After Tomorrow" you play a scientist's estranged son. Should more sons consider being estranged from their fathers?

JG: I believe so, since global warming is caused by our fathers, and it's, like, going to be our mess to clean up. So yeah. I think estrangement is a good place to start.

AAJ: In "Bubble Boy" you play a boy born without an immune system. Do you think President Bush should be immune from all the trouble he's caused in the world?

JG: Absolutely not. Though it's obviously the reason why he lives in a bubble.

AAJ: In "October Sky" you play a kid who gains an interest in rocketry after the Russian launch of Sputnik. Do you think Bush's announced plan to take us to Mars is ill-conceived.

JG: No, I happen to agree with him on this one. It will require rockets.

AAJ: Okay, one final question. You played Billy Crystal's son in "City Slickers." Do you think Billy Crystal was a bad choice to host the Oscars?

JG: Okay, I've got to put my foot down here. Just because I played a guy's son for maybe ten minutes of the whole darn movie doesn't make me an expert on him, okay? I mean really! I was a kid then, anyway. But I'm older now, and much more qualified to render judgement on world issues based on playing a vaguely associated role in a movie written by some liberal-arts major cloistered in a California studio apartment who's entire world view is formed by CNN soundbites and last week's episode of "Law & Order."

AAJ: Okay. Thank you for your time.

JG: Hey, right back at you!

Car Buying Tips

Can't decide between a Ford Mondeo and a Citroen 2CV? Here's a helpful video to help you decide.

For those of you with slow connections, this is a clip from a European television show. They helpfully demonstrate how much thrust a 747 produces at full power (58,000 lbs. per engine, to be precise) by driving two cars perpendicularly across the runway about 50 yards behind the engines.

Let me just say I'd rather not be in either one of them. They both get pitched down the runway rather forcefully. In fact, the host says that they can't have the 747 stay at full power for more than about 20 seconds, or it will start to rip up the runway.

Just a little something for your Gee Whiz File. Nice use of the "Lord of the Rings" soundtrack, too, incidentally.

Predictions for 2006

Hey, it's fun, even if I'm no good at it. And I'm no worse than anyone else doing it.

1) The 2006 elections will provide no significant gains for either party.

2) Britney Spears will not get divorced.

3) Kevin Federline's album will enjoy mixed sales. He'll still make several million. He lands a contract for TV or a movie in the process. Will still be called "Mr. Britney Spears" by the media.

4) Tom and Kate will not tie the knot.

5) Iraq's new government will perform reasonably well, their army will step up, and U.S. Troop levels will be below 75,000 by the end of the year.

6) Saddam Hussein will be convicted and executed--over U.N. protest.

7) The U.N. will try again to gain control of the Internet.

8) Joseph Lieberman will go Independent.

9) Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. Israel or the U.S. will take military action to keep them from using it.

10)North Korea's government will collapse. China will send in troops to stabilize the country.

11) I will be working for a completely different company.

12) I will finally figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

13) Walter will become interested in something entirely different from tractors/trains/cars.

14) Emma will take to kindergarten like a duck to water.

15) Terhi or I will start a side business.

16) There will be a major earthquake (6.0+) within in the U.S.

17) There will be a foiled terrorist attack at the Torino Olympics.

18) At least one major media organization will go out of business.

Punxatawny Philibuster

Last year I made several predictions for 2005. I guess it's time to revisit those predictions and see how I fared:

Legislation will be introduced to withdraw the U.S. from the U.N (but will

Not to my knowledge. The primary controversy was over the ambassador we sent there.

Elections will be held in Iraq on schedule, but the results will be
contested by the U.N.

Half right. Two successful elections have been held and certified by the U.N.

The Great Social Security Compromise will be passed this year.
Social Se-what?! That issue got drowned out.

I will turn 35 without spontaneously combusting.
Correct. There was no combustion, spontaneous or otherwise--not even birthday candles.

We will sell our house and move someplace bigger.
Correct. And we're loving it!

We will have another boy.
Correct. And we're loving it--er, him!

Someone will start making a "Buck Rogers in the 21st Century" movie.
Not to my knowledge.

We will have a terrorist attack on US soil this year.
Thank goodness no.

Bin Laden or Al Zarqawi will be caught this year.
Unfortunately no, though they've both made considerable strides toward removing themselves from relevance.

Iraq will be significantly more peaceful by the end of the year, but it
will get worse first.

Depends on who you ask.

Brittany Spears will get divorced.
Nope. And good for her! Congrats on the new baby, too. And hang tough, Kev. You're the media's favorite punching bag, but you seem well poised to laugh all the way to the bank.

Martha Stewart's new show will beat Oprah's ratings its first week.
Not to my knowledge. And her reality show didn't fare very well, either.

Michael Jackson's trial will finally start.
Correct. It also ended. And best yet, he moved to--of all places--the Middle East, known the world over for its tolerance and hospitality. He immediately gets off on the wrong foot by going into the women's bathroom.

The Yankees won't make the World Series.
Correct. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals did.

Chechnya will be granted independence.
Wrong. No progress there.

The Oil For Food Scandal will quietly go away, but not for lack of

I should have defined quietly. The U.N. is certainly keeping quiet about it. Conservatives blogs, however, bring it up every change they get.

Not a single actor or actress who threatened to leave the country if Bush
won will actually do so (not much of a guess, really, since no one did last
time, either).

Correct. But we did get Jacko to go for other reasons. That's progress.

Emma will be chosen for the "By Invitation Only" class in gymnastics.
Nope, but she did get advanced to the next regular class ahead of schedule. I'm also not sure if the "by invitation" class ever materialized.

So that's about 7.5 out of 18. I'm getting worse! Oh well. Several of those I'm more than happy to be wrong about. The scary thing is, it seems like I just made those predictions a few days ago!

Well, so long and good night to 2005. All in all, it was a pretty darn good year for us. I'm predicting even better things for next year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Theories of Relativity

I'm stepping on thin,un-PC ice here, but I'd just like to suggest to those who think America is going to Helena in a handbasket, that perhaps we need a reality check. For example, for those who think that Judge Alito is Satan incarnate for having supported notifying the spouse of a women seeking an abortion, I think that pales in comparison to this:

Pakistani Describes Killing of Daughters

And for those who think that Bush is ruining the country, read about Michael Totten's trip to Libya.

I'm not saying we don't have problems in America. I'm just saying tone down the rhetoric, will you? There are problems, and then there are truly big problems. Don't expect me to listen to your superlatives until you show me you're willing to address the truly big problems in the world.

Or are all your calls for tolerance, diversity, and equality just for show? Before you answer, read about this development from our own country. Do you see a problem, or do you see progress?

I see a problem. Unless you can show me that the true ratio between men and women of college age is equivalent, I'd say something is wrong somewhere in our society. And as a father of boys and a girl, it's important to me that they all have a chance at a good education.

But that's probably just me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hayward, CA: City of Bad Feng Shui!

According to this article, Hayward, California has bad Feng Shui. It's a good thing my sister only rents.

Not to worry, the City Council is taking action. God Bless America!

UPDATE: Oh! I just read it more closely. I had NO IDEA there were feng shui consulting firms! I tell you, the Ghostbusters were ahead of their time.

The Calm After The Storm

This is usually "dead week" where I work. The company used to have a use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy, so a lot of people got used to taking a lot of time off in December. As a result, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is pretty dead. When I arrived this morning there were maybe three other people in the entire area. We're slowly getting a few more trickling in, but this is by no means a hopping workplace today.

Not that I mind. I am completely unmotivated. I had a great weekend, and I'd really rather be home right now, even if it means watching "Cinderella" and "Thomas the Tank Engine" videos ad nauseum, or playing the 100th game of "Hungry Hungry Hippos." I've really enjoyed hanging out with the family.

The kids have been pretty darn good, all things considered. They had no trouble falling asleep on Christmas Eve, or at least had the good sense to stay quiet. As usual, they slept in on Christmas morning. We nearly had to wake Emma up. As it was, our church was at 9:00, and only for an hour, so we had already planned to open presents after church. Ultimately we didn't get started until close to noon--and they kids were fine with that!

They also were very good about taking turns opening things and not diving in with a big feeding frenzy. Terhi and I both agree that it's more enjoyable if you can see the person's reaction when they open their presents, so we would go around in a circle opening packages. The kids got quite a lot of stuff, and were a little overwhelmed, I think. But ultimately they really loved all their new stuff.

Monday I got in a little Warhammer time with my nephew, though we only got through 3.5 turns, and at that point it was still a draw (with me in the lead). He's still new to the game, and I think a couple more turns would have seen him handily defeated, but he made some very good choices in his army selection and application that kept it from being more one-sided. I had around 25% of my forces destroyed or effectively neutralized by a single choice he made.

Last night (and in the background while I was playing Warhammer) I got to see part of "Return of the King" again. I don't care what some of my critical friends say, I still think it is very, very well done. The parts where Jackson's vision actually enhances and builds on Tolkien's far outweigh the exclusions, errors, or outright changes.

I've mentioned it before elsewhere, but I particularly appreciate how Jackson manages to make a movie that is largely about war without glorifying or denigrating. The movies, at least in my opinion, are neither pro- nor anti-war. It simply shows that war is a very messy, scary, nasty business, and the consequences impact real people, for good and for ill. War is bad, but it's still preferable to living in fear or losing your freedom. Good men would rather die fighting evil than live allied with it.

The movie, I've noticed, says an aweful lot about hope, too. Without hope, even blind, foolish hope, even good men will give up. At the end the heroes throw themselves into one last hopeless assault hoping to give their friends a little more time to destroy the ring--not knowing for sure if their friends are even still alive. Indeed, when they arrive where they are to attack, a messenger shows them evidence that their friends are indeed dead and that there is no more hope.

And yet when it appears that everyone else, Gandalf included, has surrendered to hopelessness, one character stands up and refuses to give up hope. His stubborn refusal to give up hope is ultimately vindicated (at the very last second, of course). The message is quite clear: As long as there is hope there is the chance to make a difference. You only fail if you refuse to try.

In any case, it's a darn good set of movies. Regardless of what you may think of Jackson's adaptation, it captures the spirit of the books. It is a groundbreaking movie in what they are able to bring to life on the screen. It is also a bold gesture to produce such a black-and-white morality play in the current Hollywood climate. I have yet to see "The Chronicles of Narnia," but do you think they would have dared produce that movie had LotR not been as successful as it was? The general populace has no problem with movies with unambiguous, un-nuanced morality. It's just Hollywood that can't handle it.

Anyway, onward into the week. We're nearly into 2006. Simply amazing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

One Load Off

The company I work for is no longer for sale. It's hard to know how much weight a matter is until it's lifted. As much as I was trying not to think about it, you just can't help it. It impacts every aspect of your life. You can't go buy something at the store without thinking "Gee, do I really need this? What if I'm out of work in six months?" As hard as you try, you can't avoid the negativity that's been going on around here.

The funny thing is that there are people here who within minutes have already found something new to be negative about. I suppose there are people who, if they have nothing to worry about, will worry about not having anything to worry about. Even if there are other things to worry about, why not stop and enjoy the absence of this one?

So instead of worrying I just sit back and complain about the worriers! Big improvement. :-)

You know what? The sun is shining and the air has a faint swampy odor (after several weeks of below-freezing weather we're now up in the 40's). I'm about to have a three-day weekend with Christmas right smack dab in the middle of it. My family is healthy and happy, and pretty darn cute! (Evidence below) We've got money in the bank, presents to go under the tree, and food in the fridge. We've got good friends, and good families. I have a good job that earns more than we spend.

In short, I have a good life. Sure, there will always be more things I might want, and things could always go better than they do, but the fact is, there are many, many more ways that things could be worse. I'd be a fool not to notice, at least once in a while, that I am blessed.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

(Yes, this is a composite "photo illustration." I call it Three Kids, One Hat)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Purpose of Art

From Paul O'Neill of Trans-Siberian Orchestra:
The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art.

Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time.

Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love.

Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they've never had one. And when you're trying for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger.

Anyone can do it. Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward.

Enough is Enough

I've decided I've had it with being down. What good will it do me? This morning I woke up to headlines that the deal to sell our company is off. So what does that mean? I don't know, and this could go on indefinitely, so why worry about it? The only thing I can control right now is how much savings we have when whatever happens happens. I think I should work on that.

It also never hurts to be looking around to figure out what I DO want to do with my career, but I don't have to be stressed out about it. What's the point? Wallowing in misery just makes you miserable and dirty.

So come on, all you Ed Foreman Graduates out there:

I feel happy! I feel fine! I feel this way ALL the time!

(Believe it or not, it does help)

And if that doesn't, try this: .THE Best Christmas Lights Display.(Warning: Video. May not be slow-connection friendly.)

If I had lots of time and money, I can see doing something like that. Once. The neighbors would put a stop to it LONG before I'd get tired of it. ;-)

UPDATE: Here's a beautiful Christmas story from, interestingly enough, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I may need to find out more about these guys.

UPDATE II: The light show is put on by the Williams family in Ohio. Evidently they've got the lights programmed for three different songs, and they even broadcast the music on a low-power FM channel for passing cars to tune in. The run the show nightly from 6 - 10 pm. Unfortunately they've received so much exposure this year that the traffic by their house has become excessive, forcing them to shut down for safety reasons.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Gah! I had such great intentions today of getting all sorts of things done. That didn't last long. I hit a few walls and basically gave up for the day. And now I'm restless. I'm dissatisfied with my life right now. I don't want to be doing this job, but I don't know what I do want to do.

Well, what I'd really like to be doing is getting caught up on all the things I need to do at home. Christmas is coming, and my goose is getting cooked. I am so not ready. I have all my shopping done, but that's about it. There's so much to do, and so little time--and even less motivation. I would love about three hours to just lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling, completely guilt free. It's that latter part that's the deal breaker.

It's probably not helping anything that I'm still listening to "The World Is Flat" and contemplating the potential loss of my job overseas. Meanwhile, I also get to contemplate the potential loss of my job once the company I work for is sold. Yes, I'm right back where I was two years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I guess I didn't learn anything from history, because here I go repeating it again.

Actually, I did learn something. We'll have savings this time around. And hopefully a little more confidence. We've survived it before, I imagine we can again. I just wish they would hurry up and decide what's going to happen so I can actually plan rather than just worry.

Ho ho ho!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Patriot Games

I was watching a PBS documentary on re-enactments of the Battles of Lexington and Concord tonight while I was working out. A thought occurred to me as I watched the "armed rabble" take on the "British Regulars":

We have two parties in American government today. One party is continually accused of being fascist. The other wants to take firearms away from the population.

Is it just me, or does something about this not compute?

White Christmas?

We're getting more snow today, enough to shovel. We may get more as the week progresses. It's supposed to warm up toward the end of the week, though, so we may lose it all again. That seems to be the case around here. We do get cold spells where it stays below freezing all day, but we seldom get snow during those times. When the weather is right for snow, it's also just flirting with the freezing point most of the time.

We had a nice weekend, though. Saturday morning our church had a Christmas party. They usually have these sorts of things in the evening when our kids are going to bed, so we don't often go. This was a much better time for us, and it was a nice party. In the afternoon we had some friends come over with their kids and have a big gingerbread house assembly party. Nothing major, just the graham cracker with gobs-o-candy variety, wherein more candy gets into the kids than onto the houses, but it was fun. There were some pretty artistic renderings, too. I have to admit to feeling a certain surge of creativity, even though I was primarily helping my son.

It was by far the biggest event we've hosted in our new house to date, and it accommodated it admirably. The kids did pretty well, too. Walter was a little wild, but he was already having a terrible day, after waking up way too early (and too often) that morning. But we survived it all, and had a pretty good Sunday to boot.

I went Christmas shopping with my daughter on Saturday afternoon. We went to a local shopping center to avoid the mail, and even then we spent about as much time getting into and out of the parking lot as we spent in the store shopping--and that's even with Emma taking time to read every book in the kids' aisle. I hate shopping, and I hate crowds. It's so nice that we have one day each year to remind me of that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jim, Jim, Jim...

Well, it looks like Jim, my personal favorite to become Martha Stewart's Apprentice, was sent home--for all of maybe eight hours. It seems he was given one challenge he couldn't handle: a job interview. I was hoping he'd be able to gauge his interviewers and do a good job, but he didn't. Plus all the quirky stuff he'd been doing all along finally caught up with him.

Prior to last night's episode he external activities didn't matter, because he'd always either been on the winning team or produced good enough work to avoid explusion, if not the board room. But this time he was measured not on results but on personality and conduct, and he gave them all they needed to eliminate him.

I have to wonder if this was not Martha's strategy all along. She didn't have to fire two people last week. But having done so, she created an odd number of finalists. Another challenge wouldn't have worked, so she created the interview. All of Jim's quirkiness came up, but none of his successes. It was a witch hunt, and Jim fell right into it. Jim has personality, and, quite frankly, none of Martha's executive staff do. Still, the answers Jim gave to their questions showed that he was seriously miscalculating the situation.

Too bad. The two finalists, Dawna and Bethanny, have all the personality of paper mache, and all the creativity of a doorstop. Not that it matters, as they can each pick three of the former contestants to join their teams for the final challenge. Dawna picked a bunch of doers, which will probably serve her well, as the final task doesn't really demand creativity. Bethanny picked Jim and Ryan, two very good choices, I think, and someone she once had to rip apart to survive a board room--and who is still carrying a grudge.

The episode ended with both finalists really struggling, but then of course it would. They're editing for drama. The sad thing is, at this point I really don't care who wins, except I'd like to see Jim and Ryan succeed. So I guess that means I favor Bethanny.

Not that it matters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sailing Off The Edge

The latest book in my CD player is The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. If you're looking for a scary book, this one rivals anything by Stephen King--because this one is true. The basic premise is that through computers and telecommunications there are very few jobs that can't be done as cheaply and potentially better overseas.

It's only a matter of time before you'll be ordering burgers at the McDonalds drive-thru via Bangalore, India. Depending on where you live, you may already be ordering via Colorado. Your taxes are likely being done in India, and the presentation your executive director just gave may have been written for him by someone halfway around the world while he was sleeping. Book a flight on JetBlue and you're probably talking to a Mormon housewife in Utah.

So what does this mean for the individual? Good question. I'm still coming to grips with that one (I'm only maybe a tenth of the way into the book).

What about the economic picture? Well, in the short run, expect increased economic turmoil in the United States, Great Britain, and most of the other advanced countries. There are Asian countries with billions of people who can be cheaply trained to take over jobs for a fraction of what someone in the US gets paid. Proximity to the work is becoming increasingly irrelevant--it's what you know that counts.

But from what I know of economics, this will shift over time. Unless the developed nations open up new fields of R&D we will eventually experience an excess in workforce. Supply and Demand dictates that the greater the supply, the lower the cost. Wages will drop, and we will either need to find yet cheaper goods or the demand for goods will drop, too. In the short term this would also be good for developing countries with cheap manufacturing. Large amounts of money will flow to Asia.

But the other side of the equation is the impact of this on Asia. If they're not careful they will have problems of their own to face. For one thing, the wage gap is making it easy for companies to offer high wages and great benefits and still provide their services to America at a heavy discount. They offer great wages because they can, not necessarily thinking of the long term consequences. The standard has been set.

As the demand for cheap labor in skilled jobs increases (outsourced from developed countries) there will be new players enter the market, but they will be forced to compete with the existing companies and will have to pay similar wages. In fact, the more options the workforce has, the more competition there will be in recruiting the top minds, resulting in an increase in wages.

Furthermore, these higher wages will raise the standard of living in these countries. The demand for cheap goods will increase, increasing the cost of the supply. In time the outsourcing companies will need to increase wages to keep pace with the cost of living at the level to which the new generation has become accustomed.

So as a result we see wages in Asia increasing at the same time wages in America and other advanced companies decrease. Given enough time they could potentially meet in the middle. Demand for workers in the Asian countries will slow, and it will be their turn to have to figure out how to cut costs. The cycle will start all over again, this time with South America or Africa or the Middle East becoming the new India and China.

When that point is reached the Asian countries had better have developed their own R&D capabilities or they'll experience greather economic stress than America is facing now. Can you imagine the impact of outsourcing jobs to other countries on a country whose economy is based on providing outsourcing? Picture the equivalent of the entire US manufacturing industry was put out of business within the space of a few years.

The Asian countries, having done it to the developed countries, should be better prepared when their jobs also go overseas. But they will also have less time, I believe, to prepare. They will also likely face the same challenge as the US and Europe will face: how do you develop the high-level creative and strategic workers when the preparatory jobs are no longer available?

For example, can you produce an accountant who is able to run strategic accounting firms if there are no lower ranks through which to rise and draw experience from? Can the US economy really evolve to focus primarily on R&D and Education, to provide the engineers, developers, and creators who think of new technologies for the lesser developed countries to build and support? Whatever edge we have in the sophistication of our research, development, and product release is already diminishing rapidly. How long can we stay ahead in that arena?

I also wonder what will happen to the world economy when borders blur even further. As countries, companies, and workers become increasingly comfortable with Friedman's "Flat World" paradigm and increasingly creative in their operations within it, the global economy will have to become increasingly agile to facilitate the flow of money around the globe.

For example, I believe the natural progression of this paradigm is the rise of virtual companies, wherein all but the executive layers of companies become "free agents," hiring their expertise and productivity out as needed. Companies will "rent" customized functional groups to meet their needs. They may contract with Thom's Product Development Agency to realize and develop the company's product of service idea, and hire Bill's Process Engineering Group to figure out how to produce the product most efficiently.

Next they would hire Kimberly's Marketing Specialists to market the product, contract with Call-Centers-R-Us to take orders and provide product support, and pay Janet's Rapid-Configure Factories to actually make the product. Srinivasa's Accounting Conglomerate would handle all receivables and payables, and at the end of each quarter simply cut a check to each functional group (or even each individual worker). The virtual company's executives get their profits sent to them, and all they really had to do in the first place was conceive the idea and supervise the process.

Furthermore, Thom's Product Development Agency may only have one full-time employee: Thom. When a request comes in he may do nothing more than flip through his database of free-agent product developers, see who is the most experienced in these types of products (from across the world, no less), and call them up to see if they're available. He puts together a customized team to handle the specific contract and coordinates their efforts from the comfort of his living room. Each one gets paid by Srinivasa's group, and when the job is done they all go back on the market. Thom's value add is knowing product development well enough to know who to recruit and how to coordinate their efforts.

And this is just a best guess, as I'm still grounded in the current paradigms. The reality could operate much the same and yet be astoundingly different. For example, there may not even be the need for "Thom" as the middleman. It could be that all product developers belong to a Developers Network that tracks each developer to know when they are available and automatically assigns work to them based on their experience profile. They may never even know who they are working for each day, just that someone wants to know the best way to add feature X to product Y. He does his analysis, uploads his work, and at some later date his pay shows up in his account.

In such a world you could be sitting in a theater (assuming they still exist) next to a total stranger and never even know that your analysis work you got paid $20,000 for just made that person a million dollars. Or that his product idea was a new energy source that will cut your heating bill by 10% when deployed. Our lives could be intricately entwined with others without our ever knowing it.

It could also make it entirely possible for a person to enjoy several careers at once. You could design an intake valve in the morning, work on a screenplay in the afternoon, and taste test a new pastry idea in the evening--and get paid for all three. You could regularly participate in a discussion group and never even know you were being watched by a recruiter (or automated netbot) that will one day approach you to do some paid work based on the level of expertise you displayed in the discussion. You could be interviewing for jobs without ever knowing it.

Perhaps I shouldn't be posting this. I sense a sci-fi book in the making here.

Anyway, "The World Is Flat" is certainly food for thought. If I'm taking all these flights of fancy from just the first few chapters, I can only imagine where the rest of the book will lead.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Your Mother Dresses You Funny

No, as a matter of fact, my kids do. Or they would if I didn't exercise some veto power. This morning Emma and Walter both wanted to pick out my outfit, and they didn't stop to agree first on who was choosing what. As a result, Walter picked both a shirt and pants for me, while Emma chose only a shirt. To avoid a conflict (or rather keep it from spiraling further out of control) I announced that I would wear Emma's shirt and Walter's pants.

Walter immediately looked worried and looked down at his pants. It didn't take much to read his mind: "I don't think you'd fit in my pants, Daddy!" I quickly backpedaled and explained that I would wear the pants he had chosen for me. Problem averted.

Apropos of nothing, do you have any idea how hard it is to pray with a large, purring cat rubbing against your head?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

I'm back from "Happy Camp" and I'm actually happy. I was a skeptic at first, but after having tried some of their recommendations for a couple of days I have decided that much of what they taught us will fit in well with some of the other practices I've been trying to implement in my own life.

The key point is that I can choose whether or not I will have a good day or a bad day. That's nothing new, but this program actually gives you some tools to help you deliver on your decision to have a good day. Do I think it will work all the time? No. At least not at first. But I plan to follow through on their challenge to try it for 30 days.

It's been making a difference so far. I do feel pretty good!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Out Of Office, Out Of Mind...

Posting will probably be light next week. My company has seen fit to send me to "Happy Camp," which is a three-day motivational seminar required for all salaried associates. I'm trying to keep an open mind, but I'd rather the company just gave me the money they're spending to send me there. It'd probably make me happier.

At least I was able to get a spot in the one session that is during the work week. Normally they expect you to give up your weekend. Forget that!

It's snowing again, which means I should probably make a break for home soon before the roads start getting slick. Y'all have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Really Big Snew

We woke up this morning to about three inches of snow on the ground, with more coming. Not a big deal, except that where we live they're never ready for such things. Since my driveway is much bigger than the previous one I wasn't ready for work on time, so I opted to call in from home for my first meeting. Even leaving an hour and a half later, the roads were not in very good shape.

It was rather pretty, though, I will admit. Too bad it will be mostly gone by evening. At least the kids are having fun with it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

I have to admit that I've become a fan (and from the sound of it, the only fan) of Martha Stewart's Apprentice. There's only one other reality show I even watch all that much, and The Biggest Loser, while probably one of the best and most useful concepts for a show, just isn't as compelling as some others.

But MSA is interesting to watch, and it usually comes on during my time on the treadmill. I even have a favorite; Jim. Jim is the only player who really seems to be playing any strategy. He's also, I think, purposely being a jerk to catch more camera time--and it works. He's invariably in each week's preview, usually with some voice-over that implies that next week he'll go too far. But he won't. He's too good.

See, Jim is very smart. He goofs off and makes his teammates nervous, but he works hard and he does good work. He's usually got a good sense of when his team is falling apart, and he just buries his head and turns out good, solid work so he avoids getting fired. And when his team listens to him they win.

He's also annoying as all get out, but it's hard to tell what is really him and what is just his act to keep people off guard. I don't completely like him, but I'm predicting him to win. Ryan might make it to the final, but he's not assertive enough. Marcela is going to crack eventually. She's a good team player, but if left to herself she will fail. Dawna is good, but she's no standout. Neither is Bethany. I think as long as he doesn't screw up, Jim's got it.

Interestingly enough, tonight he may have screwed up. His team's reward was a dinner with Charles and the CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, in which Jim revealed his strategy and his intention to do whatever it takes to win, even if it's ethically questionable. It might not have been the smartest move. But on the other hand, the CEO will never be involved in the decision-making, and Charles only has a say when eliminating the losers. If Jim never loses a challenge again, it won't matter what Charles thinks of him.

Ultimately, though, Jim is right. It is a game. If it were a straight job interview he'd probably be acting entirely different (and he'd probably lose). But it's not. It's a game with a predictable--and exploitable--format and rules.

At any rate, it should be interesting to see how it all shakes out. And whoever wins will be one of a kind, since they aren't renewing the show. Heaven knows I won't be tuning in to watch The Donald, so I guess I'll go back to The Biggest Loser next.

Brag Brag Brag

My daughter found out yesterday that she won a coloring contest sponsored by a local company. I'd forgotten all about it, as she had entered back in early October. I'm not surprised, as she's displayed a talent for art for some time. But I am proud.

And what does she think of it all? "I like it when I win!"

Now we just have to figure out what she will do with a gift certificate to a hand cream shop.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't Make Me Like You!

If I vote for a Democrat in the next election, it will be because Joe Lieberman is running. I probably don't agree with much of what he supports, but at least he stays consistent and isn't afraid to go against his own party:

Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who recently visited Iraq, said Tuesday, “I’d like the president tomorrow to restate our goals and begin to let the American people know we’ve got a plan. And as I found last week, I believe the plan is working,” he said.

Lieberman also warned against withdrawing U.S. forces too soon.

According to Instapundit, he's gone into more detail elsewhere:

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn. . . .

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.

Monday, November 28, 2005

We're Off To Flee The Blizzard!

I took my two older kids and went to visit my folks for the weekend. While we were there it dumped about twelve inches of snow in twenty-four hours. The next day there were three-foot drifts around my car. The kids were excited, of course. I don't think they've ever seen that much snow.

The weather forced significant changes to our plans, but we had a good time. Since the last time I was home one niece had a baby and two others got married. I was able to meet all the newcomers to the family, at least. They seem like they fit right in.

Of course, as seems typical of these family gatherings, regardless of how long we spend, I didn't really get to talk to anyone for very long. But we put in an appearance, which I think meant a lot to my folks. Like I said, it's been awhile since we were on that side of the state.

It really hit me this weekend that the family is changing, and not all of it is good. If we're not careful we run the same risk as my parents' families. They feel connection to their brothers and sisters, but we kids, with few exceptions, failed to connect with our uncles, aunts, or cousins. If I were to go to a family reunion right now it would be more to make my parents happy than because I want to see anyone.

That's going to happen to our family. My parents aren't going to be around forever, and unless we kids put forth more effort to hold the family together the cousins are going to grow up with little concern for each other. It's not going to be easy, as is. The way things have worked out there is little overlap. My oldest sister got a good head start on the rest of us in having kids. My brother's group overlaps with several of her younger ones. My kids fit mostly into the gap between grandkids and great-grandkids. And as it is, I'm closer in age to my oldest neice than my two oldest sisters.

We've got our work cut out for us. My wife's family is a long distance away and not very large. My family is drifting apart. If I don't do something my kids will grow up with mostly each other. Perhaps that's not such a big deal, but I suspect the more the extended family breaks down, the more pressure there will be on the immediate family.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Enjoyable Day of Gratitude!

I have much to be thankful for. It's been a terrific year, even with all the challenges. I am amazingly blessed. I could write more about it, but I won't. I need to go remind myself that I'm thankful for Christmas lights.

Score One For Lowe's

It seems to be my lot in life to have a leaky kitchen faucet. Not long after we moved into this house our kitchen faucet began leaking. I finally got around to doing something about it this week by picking up a new valve cartidge from Home Depot.

I should probably preface this by stating that I despise plumbing, especially faucets. It's very difficult to get the right parts because a good portion of what you are hoping to fix is immovable. You can't take your entire sink in to see what part might fit. Okay, you can, but that involves leaving your entire household without the use of an essential faucet at best and no water in the entire house at worst. I invariably get the wrong part and often spend two or three trips before I get it right--and then the problem still exists. In the last house I ended up just replacing the entire faucet.

So it was with trepidation that I set out in search of a new valve cartridge. I bought one I thought would work and brought it home. It fit the valve seat just fine, but the spindle that attaches to the handle was too big. The handle wouldn't attach anymore.

So last night I went back (through dense fog) hoping to find a better one. There was no such critter, so I just to a refund and went to Lowe's hoping against hope. After much soul searching and agony of mind I decided to try a cartridge that looked pretty much identical to the one I'd already tried, only this was a dollar more expensive. I went home figuring I'd be making another trip back to Lowe's to get a refund and a new faucet.

Except it fit! It actually fit! Everything went together like a charm, and so far we can't see any sign of a leak! So while I still like Home Depot (or Hompee Deempoh, as my son calls it), I know where I'm going next time I need Price-Pfister replacement parts. The extra dollar is worth the reduced hassle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ex Post Facto

I guess I haven't posted in awhile. But then I've been a little busy. The writing bug hit recently, and I've been busy cranking out what is quickly looking to become a Warhammer novel. You can find it posted out on the Chateau Montreford site, with Part One here, and Part Two here. Or if you'd like the whole thing in MS Word, drop me a comment.

I'm also preparing to take what should prove to be an extremely interesting trip home. I'd say more, but it would contain too many of the personal details I generally try to avoid on this site. Besides, it would end up sounding too much like a screenplay synopsis--probably a melodrama.

Blogging will be light-to-non-existant for the next week, probably. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Muppets By Mail

My wife bought some stamps yesterday and was excited to see they've released a set of Muppet Stamps!

The back side has "personal quotes" from the muppet featured on the front. I loved Statler and Waldorff's quote, something along the lines of "These muppet stamps are a wonderful idea!" "Why do you say that?" "Now we can get them cancelled any time we want!"

Another favorite, Rolf: "Dear Mr. Postman: On behalf of dogs everywhere I'd just like to say...sorry about that!"

They're almost too fun to actually send!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


He'll never mention it himself, so it falls to the rest of the family to talk him up.

Congratulations to my father-in-law, who was just awarded a Distinguished Service award by the Japanese Fluid Power Symposium! He is a frequent presenter and chairman at their yearly proceedings.

Onnea, Isä!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How Do You Spell Relief?

In my case, R-E-F-U-N-D. We got the money from the phone company yesterday. They were finally able to over-deliver, getting the money to us a full week earlier than their last estimate. I feel a little Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" coming on.

M.A.D. - Media-Assured Destruction

For some interesting analysis on the War on Terror, there is this post over at The Officers' Club. I have to admit that Newt Gingrich may be smarter than he lets on.

Monday, November 14, 2005


I am the very model of a very buff barbarian!
I spent the evening on Friday with some friends playing a video game, namely Champions of Norrath. I know, it's not like me, but I have to admit a guilty pleasure in mindless hack-n-slash now and then.

All the characters, be they elves, orcs, vampires, gnomes, etc., have English accents. It didn't really dawn on me until I was driving to work this morning. What would the game/movie industry do without England? Whatever else they may have done, England has given us English with scores of accents to choose from, thus providing an instant feeling of "exotic" while differentiating between character types/status. My character, for example, is a human barbarian with a Scottish brogue. The gnomes are all cockney. One of the other characters is a female elf with a British/Welsh accent.

I have to wonder if it's possible to do a fantasy game or movie and have it be taken seriously without the actors speaking with an accent. Is there any such thing as an American elf?

Random musings on Star Wars
For my commuting pleasure this morning I pulled out the Star Wars IV soundtrack. While listening to the music that goes with the C-3PO and R2D2 scenes I got to thinking about how the two droids came together in the "first" three movies, and decided there has to be some significance there, even if unintentional. R2D2 was a servant of Queen Amidala. C-3PO was built by young Anakin Skywalker. The former droid is strong-willed and fearless. The latter is a self-centered whiner. In short, they're a reflection of their original owners.

And though they have no memory of it, in the "last" three movies, it's these two that are catalysts for everything that transpires. Running from their former master, the droids first encounter Leia, the daughter of Padme and Anakin. Then, while acting as her couriers, they encounter Leia's brother and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the orchestrator of the entire situation they now find themselves in.

It is fortunate for the galaxy that Luke and Leia inherited more of their mother than their father. There's no doubt that Leia is just like her mother. But Luke manages to inherit a smaller portion of his father's rashness and whininess. He's got just enough of his father's rashness to get himself into the final confrontation with Vader and Palpatine, but also just enough mother's sense or courage and responsibility to resist the Dark Side long enough to free his father from Palpatine's thrall.

When I first saw "Revenge of the Sith," I was rather bothered about Padme's death. I mean really, she lost her will to live? Rather melodramatic, aren't we? But the more I think about it, it makes a fair amount of sense, even if it is melodramatic. And Star Wars is nothing if not melodrama writ large.

Even if Anakin isn't one to consider the big picture, Padme is. She realizes that she's been nothing more than Palpatine's pawn from beginning to end, and that she as much as or even more than Anakin is responsible for his rise to power and the destruction of the Jedi. To someone who felt quite heavily the weight of a governing a planet, she would undoubtedly grasp the significance of what she has helped saddle the galaxy with. And the weight of that would nearly crush her. Add childbirth (to twins, even) to that, and you've got one weak, dangerously depressed woman.

So why wouldn't Padme, who has always been reasonably responsible, want to live for her children? She probably feels, at that moment, completely incapable of raising her children. Her judgement has been shown to be seriously lacking, and she knows it. The only person who has been reasonably level-headed and wary in all this is Obi Wan. (Yes, there's Yoda, but as cool as he is, he's not one to take on kids: "When 900 years old you reach, change diapers you will not!) It's plausible that she feels the best hope for her children is someone with better judgement and the power to fight a dark jedi.

Furthermore, she had to realize that as long as she is alive, Anakin (or Darth Vader, at this point) would always be searching for her. Keeping the children with her would place them in greater danger than hiding them. But even then, if Vader did find her he would probably be able to find out about the twins, and then he'd be after them as well. Dying might have very well been the best way she could help them, sad to say.

Finally, of course, there is the heartbreak of watching the man she loved turn into a ruthless, soulless killing machine. By that point Anakin was already more machine than man, and just needed the hardware to physically complete the metaphore. She had to have felt that, however bad he might become, he would never be able to hurt her. But he was, and he did (and what he did probably didn't help her condition, either). And she helped make him that way.

So yes, I don't suppose it is all that implausible for Padme to implode, to take herself out of the picture by sheer, bitter resignation. And perhaps that act in itself sowed the seeds that would one day redeem her beloved Anakin. Her loss is the one lie that Palpatine cannot cover up. He promised Anakin to teach him the power of life itself so that he would be able to save Padme. That was the power that Anakin sells his soul for; all that really mattered to him.

And Palpatine didn't deliver. He gave him power, he fanned his rage, he kept him focused on the problem "out there," but he never gave Vader the power to save those who mattered to him. Then, many years later, along comes a son that he knew nothing about. A son, who is literally a part of his beloved Padme. A son who reveals that Vader also has a daughter--a daughter he has met and in whom he had to have seen something of her mother.

I think when Vader vows to turn Luke (and later Leia) to the dark side, he is doing it to try and save their lives. He knows that is the only way Palpatine would allow them to live. It is the only power he is truly able to wield on their behalf. And so he suggests this to Palpatine, and then works with him to bring it about.

Except he fails. Vader/Anakin is very good at failing when it matters most. His son not only proves to be stronger than him at resisting the dark side, but stronger than him in his use of the force. Anakin fails, and now Palpatine will kill his son. Perhaps in that last moment Anakins realizes it has been Palpatine taking everyone he loves away from him all along. Maybe he just wants to save his son at all costs. But Vader finally realizes he can resist, and that he can save those he loves from death, if only through his own.

In the end, that's what it boils down to. Anakin realizes that he can save Padme's memory, her literal flesh and blood, by letting go of himself. As much as he loved Padme, he loved himself more. Once he put someone else ahead of himself he could finally be free. He failed to save Padme, but learned the lesson in time to save her son and daughter. In that light, his final words "Tell your were right about me..." take on amazing significance. He was finally able to be for them what he was never quite able to be for Padme.

I really need to go back and watch the last three movies again now that the first three are through. I wonder how much more there is to be found now.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

That's Gratitude For You

The Kurds are not only actively courting business and tourism with this new website, they're also preparing to run television ads in America to say "thank you".

Say what you will about the reasons we went into Iraq. I don't think anyone can honestly accuse us of a blatant disregard for human life. Nor can anyone honestly say that the Iraqis don't want us there. At least not without appearing racist.

(via Instapudit)

Pop Culture

It's time for a few pet peeves. Feel free to ignore this rant.

I've been hearing the phrase "It is what it is" a lot lately. Just what does that mean? Mostly it seems to be a means of avoiding talking about something, an outright refusal to evaluate that situation, to make any judgment or take any responsibility. "Mr. Sullivan, you just killed three people in cold blood. Do you really think that's acceptable?" "It is what it is."

It's as if they're saying that the facts speak for themselves, so feel free to interpret them how you like--but you'll be wrong because you're not me and therefore not entitled to judge. It's taking advantage of the current state of society which, on the surface at least, insists that we not apply any particular moral viewpoint without knowing the full context. "You can't judge me without context, and I outright refuse to provide you with context by suggesting the context is self-evident, thus presenting you with an irresolvable dilemma.

Goody for me that I don't buy into society's amoral attitude. What "it is," just for the record, is wrong.

My other pet peeve (or perhaps just something to be dismissed with an eye roll) is the ads for the latest online dating service, True. They're a frequent advertiser over at User Friendly (just keep hitting refresh. It shouldn't take more than one or two times to see the ad). Their slogans read "Love is just a click away" or "dive into love" or "Find love now." But then what do the pictures show? Ample, barely clad bosoms.

I'd like to do a little more research on this. Their default home page looks fairly innocuous and reasonably romantic. It's like a totally different site. Click on the ad at User Friendly (a geek cartoon, and so most likely considered to be a male-frequented site), and you get this. I'm not sure where to find a women-frequented site to see what the female audience ads and sign-up page look like. I'll bet they're not showing bosoms.

I'll also bet the women would not be so comfortable knowing how they're dragging men to the site.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Managing Expectations

The latest in my "gross overpayment" saga:

When I convinced the company to refund my money they said it would take about 5-6 days. Evidently that was just to get things started. I called them last week and was told "a couple more days." Four days later there's still nothing. So I called them again today.

The latest word is that I'll be getting a check until sometime around Thanksgiving--over a month later. Had they told me this up front I wouldn't have been happy, true, but I would at least not have been sitting around fretting each day wondering why my money hasn't shown up in our account yet. Evidently the Spirit of Service hasn't told them about under-promising and over-delivering.

Oh, and evidently they're not capable of figuring out that while I did grossly overpay my bill, I did intend to pay it. They're sending the entire amount back. Meanwhile I'm overdue for last month and owing this month as well.

At any rate, where I was originally satisfied with the way they've been handling the situation, I've since moved from somewhat ambivalent to rather dissatisfied.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Perhaps I'm overly paranoid, or overly prudish, but this bothers me. Apple can argue all they want that this was an unintended consequence. I think they knew darn well what they were doing.

You'll remember that Apple launched iTunes nearly a year before they released the iPod, making sure the content would be there to drive sales of the device. In this case, they're releasing the device, and while there is some official content, it's a fairly meager (and arguably lame) offering. Critics are already debating the eagerness of the masses to watch mainstream entertainment in small scale, low resolution.

But it doesn't take a genius to realize that there is already a lot of content available out there that has already been quite successful in small scale: pornography. You don't need high resolution to get your jollies. And all the prurience purveyors are falling over themselves to bring their wares to market. Just dandy.

When I was a kid I only had to worry about kids sneaking their dad's dirty magazines and trying to show me in school. More recently we've had to deal with the constant bombardment of it on computers. Now it can go anywhere. By the time my kids go to school it'll probably be commonplace for kids to gather around their ViPods at recess and watch downloads from Hustler. The person in the next seat at the ball game could be watching his latest hot honeys, and my son could inadvertantly get an eyeful. Will public decency laws have any control over that sort of thing?

I'm scared. I thought I had perhaps until my kids were eight or nine before I'd have to prepare them for that sort of thing. Am I going to have to have "the talk" with my daughter before she goes to school next year? It's frightening, it's frustrating, and it's downright depressing. Can't my kids just be kids for a few years?

Just one more assault on the family and the safety of home.

Knock it off already!

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I listened to the radio on the way to work this morning. The hourly news had a report on a local survey that indicated that two-thirds of respondents felt that gas prices were making it difficult to go to work.

Now I don't want to sound unsympathetic to the poor, and perhaps there really are that many people out there who make so little that they can barely afford the gas money to get them to work each day.

Granted, if that's really how the survey was worded it's a stupid question. But as it stands, it sounds like two-thirds of the people in my region are considering giving up going to work. That's like saying that because I can't find an extra $100 a month in the budget I'm going to pass on the ability to make any money at all.

Like I said, there probably are people who are already at the edge of their means who really can't afford the higher gas prices. But I suspect most of those two-thirds could tighten their budgets another $100 if need be. I can, and I don't have a cable or high-speed internet, don't eat out, and don't raid the snack machine at work.

But then my priorities have always been rather different from the mainstream. When I called my phone company today to see why my money hasn't been refunded to my account yet I had to fend off an attempt to sell me DSL. It just seems inconceivable to some people that $30-40 more a month is not a justifiable expense to me for a little extra convenience.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that two-thirds of people in my area have had to make adjustments to their lifestyles in order to afford the gas to go to work. But that's not what the survey asked, evidently.

It sounds just a bit bizarre to me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Puttin' the "Yo" in Yoda

Odd it is! Bizarre it is! Take your eyes off it you cannot!

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to...rap music!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Christmas Comes Early!

I was introduced to "The Chronicles of Narnia" in third grade. I heard they were turning "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" into a movie, but I took my usual wait-and-see approach. I hate getting my expectations up, only to be disappointed.

So I probably shouldn't have read this review from Newsweek. I don't know if the movie will have the right feel, but the reviewer, Jeff Giles, sure does:

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a slim, evocative book that always seems smaller than you remember, like a house you lived in as a kid."

Aptly put, and captures how I've felt about them. Giles also avoids the "too religious/non religious enough" debate that seems to be raging around the movie, stating simply, "It's faithful to the novel, and only as Christian as you want it to be." Just like the books, I should add.

But the best line in the review is about the character of Aslan:

Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) is a magnificent bit of computer animation, whether or not you think he's Jesus.

(And don't think for a moment Liam Neeson's participation and role don't have me excited!)

Last, but not least, they link to a trailer. By jove! If I don't see another movie the rest of this year, I've got to be there for this one.


My daughter is going to be Cinderella tonight. Curse you, Disney and your army of evil marketers! Curse your successful remarketing of your tired, old characters under the "Princesses" conglomeration! And doesn't it tell you something that your tired, old, outdated, and hopelessly out-of-touch characters are more popular than your hip, new, politically correct new ones? There's a reason why "Lilo" costumes are not flying off the shelves! And don't even think about Pocahantas! The last Disney heroine with any staying power was Jasmine, or Belle--who, coincidentally, round out the "Princesses" pantheon (and not very successfully, I might add. Belle, Jasmine, and Ariel bask in the shadows of their time-honored sisters Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White).

Oh yeah. I was going to talk about Emma's costume. Excuse me a moment while I wipe the spittle off my monitor...

Emma's glass slippers (purchased on sale from the local Disney Store, thus inspiring the above rant) were too big. Fortunately our household is not quite adjusted to the end of Daylight Savings, and we were all up on time this morning. Armed with one of my wife's larger needles, I was able to punch new holes in the ankle strap so they'll buckle on tighter.

Both the older kids are wired. I pity my wife, unless she can get them to calm down. If it were up to the kids they'd both have come to work with me this morning, as they're completely psyched about the company trick-or-treating at 3:30 this afternoon. Emma wanted to go trick-or-treating before breakfast. It was tempting. We probably wouldn't have been very eagerly accepted, but we'd probably come away with much healthier fare. "Ain't you a little early, kid? Okay, let me see what we've got... Wanna bagel?" They'd probably say yes, and be just as thrilled as if they'd gotten a 1 lb. block of Hershey's.

Walter is going as a "tractor man," which consists of a hard hat, plaid shirt, overalls, and work boots. I'll be surprised if my wife gets the boots off of him today.

I'm looking forward to getting Halloween over with so Walter can sleep better. He's the more sensitive of the two older kids, and has been struggling with all the monsters that show up in stores, on billboards, and on television this time of year. Even the Muppet Show disturbs him. I'm hoping Santa Claus will be a little easier on his nerves. But we'll see.

It's our first Halloween in our new neighborhood. We have no idea how many kids show up in this area. I hope we estimated well, as the only thing worse than running out is getting stuck with too much. I know what you're thinking. Trust me, it's not worth it. "A moment on the lips, six months of trying to get the triglycerides level back down."

Meanwhile, a big Happy Birthday to my dad! He was born right after the big stock market crash that started the Great Depression (Of course we always tease him that it was his birth that caused it). I suspect in Ray Bradbury's eyes that makes him old enough to be a time machine, just like Col. Freeleigh in "Dandelion Wine."

Of course Ray Bradbury's eyes are 85 (not today, but recently), and a bit of a time machine himself. And one of the few authors whose very existence irritates me, as he both inspires and discourages me as a writer. I'll never be as good as him, and dang it all if I don't want to be. Other writers I know I could be as good as, and others may be good, but I would never want to write like them. Bradbury turns words to chocolate, and at best I'll only ever produce rootbeer barrels.

But we were talking about my dad. My dad is one of those people who has lived a colorful life, but you don't realize it until much later. He was in the army in Austria while it was still jointly occupied by the Soviets, the English, and the Americans. He nearly married an Austrian. He worked summers in Yellowstone Park during college. He nearly drowned when he was still a baby. He was very nearly a farmer. His teaching career lasted only a little longer than mine.

He worked three jobs for much of my growing up years to keep us all fed. And because of a few personality quirks he's gone largely unappreciated by us kids for a long time. There's a saying along the lines of "When we are children our parents know everything. When we become teenagers our parents know nothing. When be become adults we're amazed by how much our parents learned since we were teenagers." I'm afraid there's one more stage that I'm at least guilty of: When we finally learn that we've been living with greatness for years and never recognized it.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Red Scare

I don't know how we've made it this far with no major injuries amongst our children. Today I thought maybe that trend had been broken. Walter hauled off and whacked Emma in the head with a toy bus. At first we thought she'd just been bruised, but then we noticed the blood. She's got such thick, long hair that it took awhile to show.

We then proceeded to perform our own Keystone Cops routine as we tried to take care of her without getting blood on the carpets, ourselves, and everywhere else. For all I know it had already stopped bleeding by the time I started applying pressure. It took us awhile to get her cleaned up enough to find the laceration. It turned out to be nothing too serious, maybe 3-4 millimeters. With all the blood I'd imagined something much worse.

It's almost impossible to get that much hair clean, and since we didn't want to wash her hair right away for fear of re-opening the wound, she went most of the day with red highlights in her hair. Tonight was bath night anyway. Terhi says the cut is pretty much okay, just a little swelling.

Knock on wood, we've still managed to avoid the emergency room so far. The way the two older kids horse around and go after each other I can't imagine how we've survived. Our day is coming, I'm sure.

Friday, October 28, 2005


It's been a long time since I was so desperate for payday to roll around. I really, really hate living paycheck to paycheck. But we won't be getting the overpayment back until early next week at the earliest. At least I can breath a little easier now--we're not quite a minor emergency away from financial ruin now. It would now take a medium emergency, at least.

Meanwhile, here's an article to support keeping your cats indoors. If you don't, they might get to go places you don't even get to see! And will be even less likely to see once you have to pay to get them back.

Our cats are just stupid enough to let doors shut on their heads. I guess that's not so bad.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oranges and Lemons

After my brother accusing the title of yesterday's post of being a bit of Obscurae Strattonae, I decided to do a little checking. The couplet "Here comes a candle to light you to bed / Here comes a chopper to chop of your head" is from an English nursery rhyme (but of course! English nurseries must have been fascinating places!). The original text and commentary can be found here.

This nursery rhyme does figure in George Orwell's book 1984.

Just in case you didn't have anything better to think about :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed...

When we moved into our new house we inherited a woodpile. I bought an axe, knowing that eventually I'd need to turn the logs into firewood. Last night Terhi was gone with the kids for awhile, so I thought that would be a good time to try out my axe.

There is something very satisfying about unleashing a mighty swing and hearing a quick, splintering sound as two large chunks of wood go shooting in opposite directions. After awhile I realized I should probably find something to hold the firewood in before I got too much farther. Even after settling on one of our garbage cans I realized I'd cut too much. A pity. I could have split wood for at least another hour. Needless to say, I got a good axe.

And no, the title for this post does not hint at any homicidal urges on my part.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction?

Yesterday we got a box from with two items. The first is the BBC series "All Creatures Great and Small" on DVD (series 1). The second is Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. I started reading the latter last night, and so far so good.

It occured to me while I was reading that this is probably one of the first non-fiction books I've purchased in my life. I've read and listened to quite a few over the last few years, but they've always been borrowed or gifts. A quick browse through my bookcase would show how rare non-fiction is in my collection.

It also occurred to me that I seem to be semi-obsessed with greatness. I'm more ambitious than I'm probably willing to admit. I would love to be someone great. Which is probably one reason why this morning (kids up way too early) was so frustrating. I simply lack the discipline to overcome even small things, so why should I harbor any dreams of greatness? As my family will likely attest, the only time "great" is likely to be used in conjuction with my name would be to say "Thom is a great big pain in the butt."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Financial Tip of the Day

It has come to our attention that there can be serious drawbacks to online bill payment systems. While they can be a tremendous time and postage saver, one must be very careful when using them. When entering amounts to be paid, type carefully. Make sure you include the decimal point. If the system you use gives you an opportunity to review your payments before finalizing the transaction, do so.

One frequent contributor to this blog, who shall remain nameless, recently found this out the hard way, when he checked his account online to verify the deposit of his paycheck only to find his checking account was overdrawn. Quick investigation revealed that instead of scheduling a payment to the phone company for $57.54, he'd sent them one for $5754.00. The money is still somewhere out in cyberspace. The bank and the clearing house can't stop the payment, and it won't arrive in the phone company's account for several more days.

What's more, the phone company is not accustomed to customers overpaying their bills, and therefore have no policy or procedure for dealing with this. In fact, had the contributor not brought it to their attention, they would have simply applied the entire amount to my account, ensuring that my--I mean the contributor's phone service would be paid up for the next eleven years.

Fortunately the contributor was able to throw himself on the mercy of the bank and at least got the two overdraft fees that had already been levied reversed. And fortunately he was able to scrape together enough cash from other sources to cover the rest of the outstanding bills (including the check for the mortgage payment) until he can get his money back from the phone company. He hopes.


Ironically, I'm rather opposed to just setting it up so my creditors can just take money out of my account to pay my bills every month. Had I actually done this I never would have had this problem.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Half-a-year, Half-a-year, Half-a-year, Onward!

My youngest is six months old today. It's amazing how quickly and how slowly the time has gone by. It's amazing how much he influences my life. He's such a good natured kid, though when he gets tired or hungry he can get pretty wound up. But most of the time he's very happy, and quick with a smile.

Lately he's been "talking" more and more. This morning as I went downstairs past his room I could hear him laying in his crib making happy noises. He's also been learning to nod and shake his head. Of course anything that comes at all close will meet his extremely grabby hands.

In short, he's a sweetie-pie, and I can't imagine life without him. Happy Half-Birthday, little guy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Hello, It's Mr. Nasty!" And This Is My One-Hundredth Post

To quote Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear) from "You've Got Mail," "I...just can't help...myself."

Although one of my most favorite lines from that movie, (it involves profanity in a rather poignant statement against profanity), comes from Tom Hanks' character, upset how he was portrayed in a news story: "That's not what I said! ... I was eloquent!! S***!!"

My wife's favorite, from Parker Posey's character: "Gaaah! Where are my Tic Tacs!"

You know, that's probably got to be one of my all time favorite quotable movies, right up there near "The Princess Bride."

Pear Paring Parity Pairing

I volunteered at our church's cannery yesterday, which is always a good reminder that my job isn't so bad. Not that I minded processing pears for four hours, especially with the free samples. But it was also a lesson in how difficult it can be to operate a facility like that on volunteer labor.

After coring, peeling, and splitting, the pears come down onto a long conveyor belt. Workers stand alond both sides, armed with specialized knives, inspecting the pears and removing any residual peels, core, or bruised spots. If there are equal numbers on both sides it probably works fairly well. Unfortunately our side operated with maybe half the number that were on the other side.

This meant that someone had to manually channel more pears to the other side than to our side to compensate. Then one of the people on our side took a break (bad back), and two more just left. I and the other remaining guy tried to keep up, but we failed. The lead worker tried to channel more pears to the other side, but they couldn't keep up, either.

To make matters worse, the quality of the pears dropped significantly about then, too. They were overripe, which meant we needed to cut away quite a bit of mushy pear. Spending more time trimming more pears meant slower processing times. They finally had to stop the line until we caught up.

Anyway, it was a good experience, and I'm glad I went. I've been there before when they processed apricots, and was the lead guy. In that situation my job was more to remove pits, but next time if I work that spot I'll know to be aware of how the flow is divided. If I volunteer enough perhaps I'll understand the entire process and be really effective.

Not exactly high on my list of goals, but you never know when information like that might be helpful.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

From the Desk of...

I have a desk now. We've had a room designated as the den/guest room since we moved in, but it was deskless until this weekend. I did have a computer desk before, but it became inadvertently and irreparably disassembled in transit (the movers warned me it might break, and I told them to go ahead and move it anyway. It made it halfway). So Friday night I bought a desk, and Saturday afternoon the kids and I built it.

It feels nice to have a desk again. We had the computer set up before this, using a folding table and a file cabinet, but it's just not the same. Now I have an actual piece of real estate, a place I can call my own, even if I have to share. Next comes the daunting task of determining what of my junk will actually take up residence on the desk.

And I have a lot of junk, I've come to realize. I've got about five moving boxes in here that I've gone through cursorily, and about 2/3 of it I can't begin to imagine what I'll do with it. It'll probably all end up consolidated into one box and stuffed up in the garage rafters. Or thrown out.

I also made some progress on getting the garage organized yesterday, too. Organizing the garage is not easy when you really have no idea where things are supposed to go yet. My storage scheme has not yet taken form, so I'm trying to find places for everything while remaining non-committal about the final locations of things. Eventually I'll start to see the pattern, but for now, it's just a big mess that keeps shifting about.

Also this weekend we found out that there are worse things than my dad needing to go in for major heart surgery. It seems he's also got serious liver problems, and so both conditions are inoperable. There are a few medical options left, but for the most part it's now more a question of how long he's got. No one's been able to give us a good answer yet.

I've known for some time, at least on an academic level, that my parents aren't going to live forever. I guess I'm not really ready to accept it internally. As "mean, ornery, and cantankerous" as he may be, I love my dad, and I want to keep him around awhile longer. Perhaps it's selfish, but nonetheless true.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Go State!

It's no secret I'm a fan of James Lileks' writing. From time to time he's also produced a web version of his old radio show. Well, now he's podcasting (@ 7 mb download). The premier issue(?) is a commentary on classical music, namely Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique." It's good for a chuckle or two.

On the Rise

I'm starting to feel better. I could just be going through what my wife and I call "my period." At any rate, I seem to be outlasting my blues, and things are starting to look better. I can't say that the situation has changed much, but my perception of things is more positive.

And for unknown reasons, last night was the first night in a while where I feel like I actually got decent sleep. That helps.

I got the chance to browse television last night while my wife was out shopping for Christmas. Yes, we have started shopping already. We have to. Half our family is in Europe, and if we don't want to pay more to ship the presents than the presents cost we need to send it off soon.

Anyway, I just have to say, there's still nothing good on. I watched an X-files wannabe for awhile. Sure it was spooky and a little unnerving, but nothing to make me want to watch it ever again. Heck, the baseball game was more compelling. Unfortunately, I wasted the better part of the evening determining what a waste of time television has become. I probably should have put on the baby monitor and gone for a walk on the treadmill. Oh well. Next time I'll know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Name is Thom...

I discovered Instapundit's wife's blog the other day. I find she has some interesting things to say. Her post today was especially interesting, but it was one of the articles she links to that really caught my attention.

The article begins with a list of warning signs of depression, and goes on to suggest that experiencing five or more could be a sign of a major depressive episode. I have to admit that I probably qualify. There's a good chance I'm experiencing depression, and if so, it explains a great deal.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't tell you what to do about it beyond "seek help." I have to admit to a strong distrust of psychiatrists and counselors. I've only availed myself of one once, and that was in college when it was free. A professor I was fairly close to was arrested in the middle of a class trip and convicted of statutory rape. A lot of people around me were really freaked out by the whole deal, and after awhile I started thinking there was something wrong with me because I wasn't freaked out. I decided to go see a school counselor about it, and even then only because one of the counselors on staff was a member of my religion.

I don't recall much about the one or two sessions, beyond her telling me that it was okay to be feeling what I was feeling and that I was just fine. I think I did feel better having expressed some of my feelings, and that was about it.

I suspect that psychiatry/psychology gets a bad rap in the entertainment media, but I also wonder if some of them go farther than they really should and take themselves a little too seriously. I'm not comfortable with the whole idea of "repressed/retrieved memories." I also don't want someone telling me that my religious belief system is causing my psychoses (yes, I suspect if I've got a psychosis at all, I'm bound to have several).

That said, I do feel there is great benefit to being able to talk about things. I've had friends pull me out of major turmoil in my life simply by being there and listening, and I think I've been able to do the same one a few occasions. There is a lot to be said for having someone you trust enough to be able to bounce your thoughts against while you straighten them all out, and who won't get upset if your initial thoughts are perhaps raw, incomplete, and perhaps a little painful to hear.

So yes, I do think I've been rather depressed lately. Though I love our new house, the whole process of moving in and getting settled has been overwhelming. Our children's behavior lately certainly hasn't helped, especially since I feel rather helpless to do anything about it. And getting demoted at work has only prolonged the whole mess. I feel useless, ineffective, and pulled in too many directions. And I feel guilty for feeling that way, because there are plenty of people going through much, much worse. I've got a good life, and it irritates and alarms me that I can't seem to take any pleasure from that fact.

I love my kids, and it tears me up inside that I can't be more patient with them and I can't seem to change their behavior. I think I'm still too emotionally immature to deal with them, but I don't know how to change. I seem to make progress some days, and then other days I'm right back where I started.

None of my hobbies seem to hold much appeal for me right now. What I do, I seem to do out of habit more than an actual desire. It's like I hope that by resuming some of those activities I'll start to be happy again, but so far it doesn't seem to be working. I accomplish things, but the sense of accomplishment is fleeting. So I finished the shelves in the garage and built a recycling cart. There's still plenty more to do, and the shelves won't be enough to hold everything, while the recycling cart is just in the way all the time.

Don't even get me started about work.

Yeah, I think I'm depressed. Darned if I know what to do about it. I guess I just keep pressing forward until something changes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Blast from the Past and Past-er

I haven't gotten around to requesting another book on CD from my brother yet, so I've been grabbing random albums from my CD collection. The other day I stumbled across a set of CD's we'd received as a present last year and I hadn't gotten around to listening to yet. It's a collection of stories and songs about Mormon History, called Mormon Heritage. I grew up listening to this set, back when it was produced on LP record.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy listening to it--and how much it's been absorbed into my life. Phrases like "Well, he was under the hair!", "Oooonne laaaaaast look!", and "Tool of the devil, right here in the camp of the saints!" have been part of my memories for years, though I'd partially forgotten where I'd first heard them. It's been like spending time with old friends again. And in other ways I'm hearing it all for the first time. Twenty or so years changes a person's perspective.

My hearing seems to have improved, too. I've been remembering some of the quotes a little wrong. For example, there's a story about a church leader who gets pulled out in to the street by an armed mob who threaten to blow his head off if he doesn't denounce Joseph Smith. The man just looks them all in the eye and says "Shoot and be damned!"

Maybe my parents raised me so well in avoiding profanity that my brain refused to hear it right, I don't know, but until the other day I always thought he said "Shoot me down!" I guess it's essentially the same, but I think my way is a bit more dramatic. Though it doesn't explain quite as well why the mob backs down.

Anyway, it's been fun going through the album again. The Three D's were quite talented, and a lot of fun to listen to. I've also come to appreciate my ancestors a bit more. It's so easy to take for granted everything they did, and I'm as guilty as the next guy. I have a hard enough time getting my yard in order every spring, even with Home Depot within ten minutes drive. I can't begin to imagine starting a city in the middle of a desert with little more than I could fit in my minivan and no hope of additional supplies should something go wrong.

Or, harder yet, maintaining my faith and religion in the face of mobs with a free pass from the government to murder, rape, and destroy, and a proven desire for it. I can only hope and pray I'm never called on to be tested the same way. I'm afraid it'll come to that, though. For all our modern civility and tolerance, society is becoming increasing un-civil and intolerant. But I'm not going off on that tangent right now.

The important thing is that many generations struggled and fought to provide me with the priviledged life I enjoy now. My parents grew up knowing poverty and hardship, and they've worked hard most of their lives. My dad worked twelve-hour days for as long as I can remember. And I get peevish if my modem acts up and I have to reboot my computer before I can check my spam.

A little dose of perspective is a good thing now and then.

Friday, October 07, 2005

(Saw)dust in the Wind

Last night I built a recycling cart in 2.5 hours. That's got to be a record for me for a project that requires more than one tool. Now we'll see if it works the way it was intended. It's a two-level rack, with three 40 qt. garbage cans on the bottom and the garbage company's curbside bin and another garbage can on top. The whole thing is on casters so we can move it wherever we need to.

It turned out rather well, considering, and I had just enough wood to do the job. Now I'm on to more maintenance projects, like fixing aleaky kitchen faucet (at which I have a mixed track record)and getting the bedroom doors so they don't squeak. I suspect it's going to take more than oil for the latter on. I think the doors are mounted a little out of alignment and rub against the frame when you close them.

I was thinking of getting a desk for the den this weekend, but when I mentioned it to my wife she said I should build one. I'm not sure if she was serious or not, but if she is, it means I'll have to wait until my brother gets his house renovations finished so I can use his new shop. I'm getting more and more of the stuff I'd need, but I've got a long way to go before I'd be able to make even an adequate-looking desk. And I doubt I'd save much money in the long run--probably cost more if I try to make it out of anything other than particle board.

It's the weekend, finally, but it's going to be another busy one to the point that I'm not sure I'm even looking forward to it. I wish I could take a few days off and just go do something fun. I'm not sure what that would be, even if I had time, so it's probably best that I not take the time off, I guess.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

News From Iraq

Sheesh, if I keep this up I might actually get mistaken for a blogger! I read an article today, thanks to Instapundit that gives you a ground-level view of what's going on in Iraq, or at least Mosul. Fascinating (and cautiously encouraging) stuff!

Read this from Michael Yon. It's a long read, but very, very good.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Secret Combinations

I don't often get religious in my blog, but I will this time. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we include as part of our scriptures "The Book of Mormon," which covers the religious history of several groups of people in South America. From time to time their society struggled with a secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) conspiracy that sought for power and wealth, known as the Gadianton Robbers.

Today I was reading a quote from an interview by Scott Atran with an Bali Islamic leader Abu Bakar Bashir, when something he said sounded familiar:

SA: What can the West, especially the US, do to make the world more peaceful?

ABB: They have to stop fighting Islam. That's impossible because it is sunnatullah [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Koran. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam....We'll keep fighting them and they'll lose. The batil [falsehood] will lose sooner or later. I sent a letter to Bush. I said that you'll lose and there is no point for you [to fight us]. This [concept] is found in the Koran.

SA: How can the American regime and its policies change?

ABB: We'll see. As long as there is no intention to fight us and Islam continues to grow there can be peace. This is the doctrine of Islam. Islam can't be ruled by others. Allah's law must stand above human law. There is no [example] of Islam and infidels, the right and the wrong, living together in peace.
(emphasis added)

So in other words, if we want peace, we have to be at least ruled by Islamic law, if not convert to Islam. There is no other option.

Now, compare that with an except from "The Book of Mormon," 3rd Nephi, chapter 3, in which a Gadianton leader writes to the leader of the land:

Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.

Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.

And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.

I should mention that I know full well the average follower of Islam does not share this extremist belief. I know that most are willing to live and let live. Others, not so much--but at least they're not violent about it.

But there is a definite extremist element who have openly declared their intentions. In the "Book of Mormon" the people didn't feel any particular need to open a "dialogue" to better "understand" the Gadiantion robbers and their reasons for wanting to conquer them. They saw the threat and acted to put down that threat. And they succeeded, at least for a time.

I don't want to "understand" the Islamic extremists. What is there to understand? Do people really expect me to believe that they don't really mean it when they say I will convert to Islam or die? They've shown their hand. Their intentions are clear. It's us or them, folks.

At the risk of sounding intolerant, I vote us.


I'm slowly replacing my more favorite cassette tapes with CD's (just in time for some new format to replace them both, I'm sure). Yesterday I got Sting's "Dream of the Blue Turtles," his first solo album as I recall. I listened to it on the way in to work this morning, and I was struck by how much things have changed since he recorded that album.

Back in 1984 the Cold War was still in full swing. Sting's song "Russians" was a plea for sanity ("What will save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children too"). Twenty years later we have an entire generation who have no idea what the song is talking about. The Russians, oddly enough, are now better allies in many ways than the French or Germans.

Funny how a song can go from a political statement to a historical footnote so gradually that you almost don't notice. But ultimately he was right. The Russians love their children too, and it turned out no one was crazy enough to kick off "The Big One." I wonder if we'll look back on Arab-Western relations in twenty years and marvel at how things used to be.